Dinnertime Hacks for Busy Homeschool Families

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Whether we work or volunteer outside the home or just spend a lot of time and energy keeping our households running smoothly, sooner or later we homeschool parents finding ourselves running out of steam.

More often than not, that problem seems to coincide with the dreaded “arsenic hour” which in turn coincides with the need to nourish everyone before bed time.

Phooey to all that hunger-charged chaos, right? Well, with the right tools and strategies in place recommended by veteran homeschoolers, you can say “L8R!” to supper hassles.

To get you started are these tips from the How to Work and Homeschool (HWHS) Facebook community.

All set to dig in?

Let’s go...

Plan your meals in advance.

Meal planning isn’t just for those folks with large families, on tight budgets, or following strict diets. With a little advance scheduling a week or two out, you can ensure the good, nutritious food is at the ready. There are all kinds of nifty tools to get you started with meal planning, from apps to cook books. Currently I’m kinda digging Cooking Light’s weekly meal planning too.

Don’t forget that, for older kids, participating in meal planning, prep, and presentation is a valuable life skill. (Heck, even the littles can learn valuable lessons from helping you think about what to prepare and serve!)

You can even turn it into a mini-class with the help of this video, courtesy of TEDEd.

Embrace meal prepping.

A step up from meal planning is meal prepping. Broadly speaking, there are two different approaches with some occasional overall. Popular with the “eat right and get fit” crowd are various books on how to use meal prep planning to slim down. (They also use those fancy individual containers which they up every Sunday in anticipation of the week ahead.) The second type of meal preppers can be termed the “fill the freezer” group. They create meals to reheat later or craft “freezer meal" kits to dump into the slow cooker later.

Take it easy with the veggies.

No, I'm not suggesting that you ditch them. Rather I'm suggesting you experiment with easy prep tips, from pan roasting to steaming and reheating. One of my favorite things to do is to steam mixed veggies at the the start of the week and then convert the leftovers into a quiche for breakfast. (The kid isn't a fan of quiche, but my husband finds it convenient--and we parents gotta eat well, too!)

Beans make a great protein source and foundation for chili or tostadas and other quick meals. I've shared two family recipes for beans (here and here) over on my other blog, RedWhiteandGrew.com.

Get tech savvy!

There are dozens of different ways to enlist the Internet to help you out with dinnertime, from Pinterest boards chock-a-block with meal planning ideas to clever apps that help you with your shopping.

To whit, one of my homeschooling friends, Melody, just went through an intensive, multi-week training program as she prepares to go back to work. She had this to say about one of her favorite services: "We have been using Shipt to have groceries delivered. It has made the transition a lot easier. Both hubby and I can add to the same grocery list through the app on our individual phones.”

Your delivery service options may vary by your community, but don’t hesitate to ask around. There may be some great service that you’re missing out—even if it’s a humble CSA that will bring you fresh-from-the-farm produce.

Stock up on the right tools.

You’ve got your plans and your food, so let's cook it! Homeschoolers are famous for using clever gadgets to prepare meals, from breakfast to lunch to dinner. Chief among those kitchen tools is the famous (and aforementioned) slow cooker. (I’ve yet to meet a homeschooler who doesn’t own and use a slow cooker.)

As one member of the private HWHS parent group commented: “I love my slow cooker! Ironically, I leave the house early enough in the morning that my slow cooker was actually overcooking things. I purchased a timer for the outlet where I plug in my slow cooker, and now my recipes turn out perfectly. . . . I got [an analog version] at a local hardware store.” (Amazon has both digital and analog versions. See below.)

My friend Kathryn meanwhile mentioned how much she relies upon her electric pressure cooker aka the “Instapot.” (She added that she's partial to this brand.)

Finally, don’t be afraid of take out.

Obviously, you probably don't want to make it a habit. Delivery service and frozen meals can be pricey, and the food quality isn’t as good if you go DIY. That said, a little grace is called for now and again, and it doesn’t hurt to keep a stash of coupons and gift cards to your favorite pizzeria handy.

Also, keeping one or two frozen, family-friendly sized meals (with a package or two of veggies) is a good idea. (Don’t tell anyone, but my “famous” lasagna is actually a store knock-off of a well-known brand. For years I carted it to a holiday party in our neighborhood where people gobbled it up like it was homemade. Shhh…)

I’d love to hear your ideas in comments, and don’t forget to join us on the HWHS Facebook page for more clever ideas to make working while homeschooling a little easier.


Pamela Price is the author of How to Work and Homeschool and Gifted Bullied Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families, both from GHF Press. 

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